Guess Who’s Your New GOP Frontrunner?

It’s Newt’s turn.

Newt Gingrich has taken the lead in PPP’s national polling.  He’s at 28% to 25% for Herman Cain and 18% for Mitt Romney.  The rest of the Republican field is increasingly looking like a bunch of also rans: Rick Perry is at 6%, Michele Bachmann and Ron Paul at 5%, Jon Huntsman at 3%, and Gary Johnson and Rick Santorum each at 1%.

Compared to a month ago Gingrich is up 13 points, while Cain has dropped by 5 points and Romney has gone down by 4.  Although a fair amount of skepticism remains about the recent allegations against Cain there is no doubt they are taking a toll on his image- his net favorability is down 25 points over the last month from +51 (66/15) to only +26 (57/31). What is perhaps a little more surprising is that Romney’s favorability is at a 6 month low in our polling too with only 48% of voters seeing him favorably to 39% with a negative opinion.

Gingrich’s lead caps an amazing comeback he’s made over the last 5 months.  In June his favorability nationally with Republican voters plummeted all the way to 36/49. Now he’s at 68/23, representing a 58 point improvement in his spread since then. As recently as August Gingrich was mired in single digits at 7%, and even in September he was at just 10%.  He’s climbed 18 points in less than 2 months.

There’s reason to think that if Cain continues to fade, Gingrich will continue to gain.  Among Cain’s supporters 73% have a favorable opinion of Gingrich to only 21% with a negative one. That compares to a 33/55 spread for Romney with Cain voters and a 32/53 one for Perry.  They like Gingrich a whole lot more than they do the other serious candidates in the race.

There’s also a CNN poll out, the sample of which looks a bit suspicious as to its Democrat leanings, which has Romney at 24 and Gingrich at 22. That poll has Romney beating Obama 51-47 in a head-to-head matchup, with Gingrich losing 53-45. Still, as badly as Newt has been beaten up over the years by the media for him to be within eight points in a survey oversampled toward Democrats, that’s not a bad number.

Will Gingrich be able to hold on to this boomlet? It’s hard to say. He’s got skeletons, and now that he’s a frontrunner you can set your watch to them tumbling out of the closet. On the other hand, there really isn’t anything you can say about Newt’s personal baggage that most GOP primary voters don’t already know. The narrative on Newt isn’t that he’s such a terrific guy, it’s that he’s a guy who can fix some of the stuff the country needs fixing.

Something of a Winston Churchill figure, one might say. Churchill’s early political career was a mixture of brilliance and disaster, and by 1939 he was considered a gadfly and a has-been. But Churchill had some key things right, most notably that Hitler was the scourge of Europe and making nice with him was the worst possible mistake Britain could make – and when his I-told-you-so moment came, his political star rose. And the U.K. got its greatest modern historical figure at a time it was nearly knocked to the curb.

Is that a perfect analogy for Newt? Not exactly. But he does come off as the crusty old guy who knows how things work and who could fix things in Washington if he got a chance, but circumstances have to come together just right to give him that chance.

Well, right now circumstances are coming together for Newt.

The question here is whether he can keep his campaign from imploding. He’s had trouble staying focused throughout his political career, though he does seem to be a lot more disciplined in the last six months or so. With Newt, though, the good news is you won’t likely have an implosion during a debate, so that sort of self-destruction won’t kill him.

What might kill him is the media scandal-mongering sure to come his way. Hope he’s ready for it.

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